Posts Tagged ‘Science Eduation’

Up Close and Personal with Biofacts

by | December 16th, 2010

Kids Love Skulls!

My name is Loretta Breuning, and I’m a docent at the Oakland Zoo. My favorite place in the zoo is the cart full of primate skulls. Kids run over when they see the skulls, and that makes it fun to be a docent. I like to talk to the kids about adaptations, like the baboon’s big nose that’s good at smelling predators. But most of all, I like to hear their questions.

“Is it real?” is usually the first thing they ask. In a world full of Photoshop and Reality TV, people care about what’s real. I explain that the resin models are cast from real skulls. But kids get so excited about the real ones that I give everyone a turn to touch them with one finger. I am impressed with how grateful and polite the kids are as they take turns touching.

Every few minutes, someone asks “How did he die?” or “How did you get this?” Kids are obviously thinking about the stewardship of the animals. I reassure them that zoo animals get the best medical care and live to a very old age, but when we can’t save them, we save their bones to honor them and their species in the future.

A lot of kids have something to teach me. One day, I was amazed to hear the words “that’s the spinal cord attachment” coming from a kid who was shorter than the cart. His mother told me he learned it on a KQED science show.

I used to ask well-informed kids if they watch Animal Planet. But a few kids told me, “No, I read books.” Now I’ve learned my lesson and I presume kids read books.

Parents often have something to teach me, too. One mother pointed to a tiny hole in the jaw of a skull and said, “That’s where the dentist injects anesthesia.” She was a dental assistant and told me that the little holes are where the nerves go. I had always wondered about those holes, and I gladly pass on the knowledge.

Some kids have so many questions that I want to suggest resources to enjoy at home. If it’s bones they like, I send them to eskeletons which has beautiful images of each mammal’s skeleton. If you like to watch gibbons swing, you will love the close-ups of their wrists and shoulders.

If a kid wants to know more about what’s inside the skull, I will tell them about brainmuseum. It shows dozens of different mammal brains- photos of real ones, flashing one after another; (click on “brain evolution” on the left bar).

A day at the zoo always raises big questions about life. One day, I heard a three-year old girl saying “But Mommy, how did they get the skin off?” They were standing in front of sarcosuchas (the big skeleton of a crocodile ancestor in the Children’s Zoo).  That’s not an easy question to answer. I think people love to come to the Zoo because it helps us think about the nature of life. If you’re interested in becoming a docent or a Zoo Ambassador, you can get more information here.

Scientists for dinner?

by | May 26th, 2010

Sometimes working late is awful, sometimes it’s awesome!

Education Specialist Sarah Powers teachs students about trade in endangered species products, like this tiger pelt.

On May 5, as most zoo keepers and admin staff were packing up and heading home, the Conservation and Education team were packing up animals and headed to the Snow Building.  We were helping host “Dinner with a Scientist,” an annual event sponsored by Oakland Unified School District.

The goal is simple: inspire bright students to remain interested in science by exposing them to a variety of scientific careers.  Middle and High School students were selected by their teachers to attend a very special catered dinner, where a different scientist arrives at the table with each course!

From the nametags I saw, there were chemical engineers from CAL Trans, physicists from Lawrence Berkeley Labs, and of course our own Conservation Manager from the Oakland Zoo.   During the meal, scientists give an overview of their job, their educational background, and answer questions from the students.  Dr. Parrott, Executive Director of the Oakland Zoo (and veterinarian) gave the key note address.  Since most young people have limited knowledge of the career options available if you enjoy math or science, an event like this can be really eye opening!

Education Specialist Sarah Cramer introduces students to our Yellow Naped Amazon Parrot.

This is the first year the Oakland Zoo served as the venue for this event and our goal was to give the students, scientists, and teachers a warm welcome–which means animals!  After registration, guests were invited meet a Yellow-Naped Amazon, a Common Chuckwalla, a California Desert Tortoise, an Indigo Snake, and a Ferret.  It was very fun for us to meet the guests and share a information about our animals and the zoo.  Both the students and the scientists asked very good questions about our animal ambassadors.

The good news for us it that we get to do it all again for elementary school students on June 2nd!